The Language of Life: Defining and demonstrating respect
PS 368 Mandarin Student
As parents, our No. 1 priority is to raise a child that is respectful. It is a lesson that is taught at home and from day one in most classrooms across this country and around the world. But before a child can be respectful they have to understand the concept of respect and have the idea defined. I have found that it becomes primarily the work of parents, to set the tone and model for what it means to be respectful to you and others, as we all live together in a community.
When I began Global Language Project, I remember that the first group of students who were learning Chinese had never had the opportunity to meet a person of Chinese descent. One third-grader named Alex could not remember the name of his teacher and when he had a question he addressed her as "Miss China." I was taken aback initially but then I realized that this was a teachable moment. I had an opportunity to address the fact with Alex that this teacher from China may have a different physical appearance on the outside, and maybe an unfamiliar accent, but at the end of the day she deserved the respect of being called by her correct name. I could see that while this was a new concept for Alex, he was open to learning and understanding. Children are like sponges and as parents we can define "respect" for our children by modeling it for them. Beyond demonstrating respect through our own actions and activities, we should be intentionally looking for all the teachable moments that may arise in everyday activities.
The grocery store, shopping center or neighborhood park are all fertile ground to begin modeling respect and building awareness of the diversity that exists in the world. As we know, children notice everything and have questions why people look and sound differently than what they are used to seeing and hearing. Depending on how loud and the location where these questions are asked, many of them have made parents squirm. Instead of fretting about a question from an inquisitive child, I have learned to be proactive in pointing out differences.
My personal favorite activity is to make it into a game. While you are shopping, if you hear someone with a different accent, have your child guess the country where the person might be from, or what language they might speak. The object of the game is not for your child to get the right answer. The goal is that in a subtle but impactful way, your child begins to notice the diversity that exists in the world. They will begin to understand that there are other languages to communicate in other than English, and that usually, if they hear an accent, it might mean that the person speaks another language.
Many will say that parenting is more of an art than a science. We have most likely learned in great part from our parents about the basics of what to do and what not to do, and maybe in our spare time we have read a few books. But most parents would agree that how we really, truly define our parenting experience is through trial and error. In our quest to raise a respectful child, our ultimate goal is to find ways to teach the lesson of respect in a way that is interesting, will keep them interested, and will keep the dialogue open and frequent. You will cultivate not only respect in your child, but also their curiosity about the world at large.